Ask The Therapist: “I have a very toxic brother…I don’t know how to live happily in such an environment”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I have a very toxic brother. He is in college and younger than me. He always shouts at everyone in our family and never cooperates with anyone. My parents never say anything to him because he then starts shouting loudly and because we live in an apartment, it will create a scene in the building. Hence, they just keep feeding his ego and don’t correct him for his behaviour with others. He thinks he is always right, he almost hates everyone in our family and does not even talk to me. On the other hand, he behaves very well with his friends and they have no idea about his behaviour in the family. With others he acts like a mature and good person, but he has made our house very toxic and difficult to bear. I feel sick living here and want to run away. My family doesn’t seem like a happy stable family because of all this. He keeps disturbing everyone, even our sleep. He watches TV, or plays games talking loudly on the phone until late at night. But, when he wants to sleep, he goes to his room and doesn’t want any disturbance. I don’t have a room of my own so I can’t even sit in a separate room to maintain a good mood. I don’t want to fight with him, it’s useless and it’s so pointless because he never sees his fault. I don’t know how to live happily in such an environment. Our house was very happy and warm when we were young, but I don’t know how to cope now. I just wanna get married soon so I can leave this house and live somewhere happily.”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Hi Anon,

Co-existing with an emotionally volatile family member can be extremely challenging, and emotionally taxing. I can only imagine how difficult it’s been to cope with what’s been happening in your home. In situations like this, there are a few things that you can do in order to keep yourself safe emotionally, as well as physically. Let’s explore some of those options.

Knowing What You Have Control Over

When talking about any kind of relationship, it’s crucial to remember what you have control and influence over. In the case of your brother, you might not be able to control his emotional state, actions or the words that he says, but you do have complete control over yours. At the end of the day, that’s all you can really do. You can be conscious of the words you speak, as well as monitor and experience your emotions. In order to keep yourself safe, it’s best to let go of expectation or belief that you are responsible for someone else’s feelings or emotions. You care for them, and support them – the rest is on them.

Reaching Out To Your Brother

Anger is an emotion that functions as a shield for much deeper emotions. Imagine there’s an iceberg, Anger is usually just the tip of it, and there’s so much that lies underneath it. If you feel safe enough, perhaps reaching out to him and asking him about what he might be experiencing could be helpful. Listening openly, compassionately and empathetically can go a long way in communication. It’s possible that he might resist it at first, and if that’s the case, it might help to give him some space. Try asking again after some time, a couple of days, maybe. If he does begin to open up, it helps to:

  • Validate his experience
  • Listen openly
  • Express curiosity instead of giving advice
  • Reassuring him that you’re there for him

Establishing Boundaries

This can be a tricky one, but it needs to be said. Sometimes, it’s a matter of expressing your concerns in a grounded and assertive position. If there’s a precedence for him violating these boundaries, they would need to be reinforced multiple times. Try speaking in “I” statements as they take the focus away from the person you’re talking to. So, for example, if he is disturbing your sleep, maybe say: “I am really tired and trying to sleep, could you turn down the volume of the TV?” Language can play a crucial role in situations involving boundaries. It may take some time, but if practiced, it can definitely make a difference.

Practicing Coping Mechanisms

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be in an environment that’s so charged and tense. It could also be trickier since you don’t have a space of your own. Perhaps you could implement some coping strategies, or things that might help you feel a little more grounded in these situations. This could include:

  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Going for a walk
  • Exercise
  • Muscle relaxation exercises
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Journaling

Counselling Services

In case you need further support, you could even seek out guidance from a mental health professional. It could also be worth bringing up the idea to your brother once he’s in a calmer and collected state. If he is exhibiting emotional flare ups, it’s possible that there are things that he is not able to really talk about or express. Talking in a safe, non-judgemental space might be of great benefit to him, that is if he allows himself to work with the process. There are quite a few platforms/organisations that offer counselling:

Remember, Anon, you only have control over your own experience and actions. The most you can do for yourself is look out for your emotions. If you do reach out, take care of yourself in case it doesn’t go the way you planned. Remind yourself that it isn’t your fault or your responsibility. I really hope things work out for you and your family. Best of luck, and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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